As any dedicated motorcycle enthusiast will tell you, this hobby is anything but cheap. Investing in a motorcycle is exactly that: an investment. New motorcycles are staggeringly expensive, and in most cases, aren’t something you should be looking at if you’re just starting out. So if you’re a new motorcycle enthusiast or a seasoned hand looking to go a little easy on your wallet, buying a used motorcycle is the next best option.

But before you allow the prospect of putting 'pedal to the metal' fill you with an adrenaline rush, you may want to consider a few things. Firstly, you'll to need to do some research and be prepared to thoroughly inspect any used bike you may be interested in buying. This process is going to require time, diligence, and a little bit of elbow grease!

A further word of caution: when you set out on your bike inspections, you may very well be tempted to buy the first bike you see, but do not make an impulse purchase! It’s advisable that you check out a few bikes first, and weigh the pros and cons of each before you go ahead and sign on the dotted line.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll find yourself to be the proud new owner of a used bike thats good as new in no time!

Buying Used: A Preliminary Checklist

Before you go out to meet a few sellers and inspect some bikes, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Call up the seller and get as much information as you can about the motorcycle in question. With this information in hand, you can do some research about that particular model in order to be prepared for its inspection. This is especially useful when you consider the fact that different motorcycle models have specific problems, functions, and features that you may need to be aware of.

  • Inform the seller that you would like the bike to be cold when you come to inspect it. If the engine has been pre-warmed, the bike is easy to start and any tuning issues which may exist will be difficult to spot.

  • If possible, bring along a friend who happens to know a lot about motorcycles or, if you’re lucky, happens to be a mechanic. Having an extra pair of well-trained eyes and ears will help you make the right decision They’re also very helpful when it comes to preventing an impulse, excitement driven purchase!

Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

As a potential buyer, you have the right to ask the seller as many questions as you want until you’re completely satisfied. Listed below are some of the questions which you should definitely be asking:

  • How long has the seller had the bike and was it purchased new?

  • When did the motorcycle last get an oil change?

  • What type of riding was the bike predominately used for?

  • Did the seller finance the bike on their own and do they possess the title to the bike? (Note: the title is very important and if the seller doesn’t have the title, it’ll only complicate matters.)

  • Why is the bike being sold? Has the bike ever been seriously damaged or been in an accident?

  • What was the maintenance schedule of the bike? Are there any records of maintenance – how up to date are they?

  • Were any modifications made to the bike?

  • Why is the owner selling the bike?

It’s Time for a Physical!

This is one of those instances where you’re going to have to do a little poking and prodding, as well as a thorough visual inspection to ensure everything is in working condition. It is recommended that you bring a little flashlight with you to see into all those nooks and crannies, even during daytime. Remember, a thorough inspection can go a long way in identifying any potential problems with the bike which the seller may not have been forthcoming about.

If you’re uncomfortable with the inspection yourself, you can also schedule a thorough bike inspection from an accredited motorcycle repair shop.

Here are a few things to look for when you’re giving the motorcycle a ‘once over’:

Overall Appearance

Does the bike have any cracks or scratches on it? What is its overall appearance like? Are there any physical indications that the bike has been crashed or abused?


The condition of the frame is very important: any type of frame damage ranging from even a hairline fracture, to dents, tears, or kinks of any kind can pose a serious safety hazard. Walk away from a bike with any form of frame damage.

Signs of Racing

Does the bike show signs of being raced – that is, does the bike show signs of the stress that racing puts on a motorcycle? This includes cracked frames, tires with frayed edges, etc. If the bike has been raced, and assuming you still wish to purchase it, you can effectively negotiate for a lower price.


Inspect the brakes! You don’t want to be in a situation where you really need them, only to find that they don’t work very well.

You need to check whether or not the brakes engage smoothly. Put the bike in neutral, and gently press down on the front brakes. They should engage smoothly, and, once released, they should be off and not dragging. Furthermore, when the brake is engaged, check to see if it successfully prevents the front wheel from moving.


Inquire as to how many years and miles the tires have on them currently (ideally, they should be changed every other year). This is vital information that the seller should know! The tires are the only source of traction and serve as your connection to the road – in other words, their condition is vitally important for the rider’s safety!

Chains & Sprockets

  • Check for any rusting or corrosion of the chain

  • Test the flexibility of the chain by pushing and pulling sections of it. It is recommended that you test the entire length of the chain, which should move between three quarters of an inch and one inch in both directions

  • Inspect the shape of the teeth of the sprockets – they should be even, and their tips shouldn't be too worn down.

Gas Tank

Check the gas tank to make sure there isn’t any buildup of rust or sediment. Clogs in carburetors is therefore a very bad sign!


The engine should start smoothly and not sound like someone with a bad case of bronchitis. If it’s choking and making guttural noises when it starts, do not consider the bike!


  • Sit on the bike, grab the front brake, and try compressing the forks. There should be firm resistance. Once released, they should rebound all the way back to their starting point.

  • There should be no odd sounds produced when the suspension is bounced up and down. Any squeaking or clunking would indicate bad binding and mean that you shouldn’t consider buying.

  • Inquire as to when the suspension fluid was last changed; inspect the forks for oil leakage and any surface irregularities.


The seat shouldn’t be cracked or damaged in any way. If the upholstery is damaged, it can retain water. The seat should also be stable and properly attached to the motorcycle.


Check to make sure the following switches and signaling indicators are all in working order:

  • Headlights

  • Turn signals

  • Neutral indicator light

  • Oil pressure light

  • Brake light

  • Horn

  • Starter/ignition

Additional things to check

  • Inspect the clutch

  • Check the exhaust pipes for holes or rust

  • If the bike has a center stand, inspect it thoroughly, including the bike’s alignment.

The above list of parts and functions to inspect is far from conclusive. Rather, it provides a general checklist for you to run-through during any motorcycle inspection. Feel free to inspect additional parts, functions, and features of the bike when you’re looking to potentially make a purchase.


Test Drive

Although most sellers don’t typically allow potential buyers to test drive the motorcycle for liability reasons, go prepared with your riding gear just in case. Getting the chance to test drive a bike allows you to truly get a feel of the vehicle and test out certain functions such as the brakes. Furthermore, if you’re very intent on buying a particular bike, you may be able to convince the seller that a test drive is what you need to seal the deal.

Final Negotiations

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve found the bike you want, it’s time to negotiate the logistics of the acquisition. It’s helpful, and even advisable, to do some research into the prices of used bikes. Get an idea of what prices different sellers are asking for, what warrants higher prices, and what can result in a reduction of price. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be in a position to get a better deal.

Draw up a Bill of Sale with all of the details you agreed upon and get the requisite signatures from the seller. Also ensure that the title to the motorcycle is transferred to you.

Once all the paper work is done, get the bike and everything related to it such as any spare parts, manuals, etc., and you’re good to go!

Exploring the market for a motorcycle which suits your specific needs is thrilling, but it also involves a lot of work. You need to be well equipped with information, and be prepared to thoroughly inspect any and all motorcycles you may be interested in. Above everything else, never settle for mediocrity; used or not, this motorcycle is going to be your new baby! On that note, good luck and happy hunting!